Among the Cats of Manhattan there is one called Rocky, barely out of kittenhood, who is rapidly becoming a whiskered Nancy Drew.
“Her name is Gris-Gris, Rocky, and she’s such a sweet cat,” sobbed Mrs. Castle. “I call her Gris-Gris, because that’s what people in New Orleans call a special lucky charm.” With one hand, the elderly lady wiped away a tear. With her other hand she petted a skinny gray cat lying on the pew beside her.
Rocky was young, not much older than a kitten, and her fur was soft. But her eyes shone with intelligence. She snuggled up against Mrs. Castle, and her paw gently stroked the old lady’s wrist. The paw was saying, “Tell me more.”
They were sitting in front of the altar at St. Malachy’s, the actors’ church, in the middle of the Broadway theater district. The church was small and dark and friendly. There was still a smell of incense floating in the air from the last service, as well as the scent of candles burning in red glass holders.
“Gris-Gris is all I have left of my old home,” sighed Mrs. Castle. “Except for these,” she added, touching her necklace of gold and silver beads. “A clown on a float threw them down to me during the last Mardi Gras before the hurricane. I wear them every day.”
Shaking her head, Mrs. Castle said sadly, “I don’t know how Gris-Gris got out of our apartment. And I wouldn’t worry so much if we were still in New Orleans, but here in New York... Gris-Gris just doesn’t know her way around.”
Rocky gave her most sympathetic meow. It sounded like merrrowww.
She was promising, “I’ll do my best, Mrs. Castle.” She curled up, put her chin on her paws and tried to keep her whiskers from trembling with excitement. This was her first case, and she was thrilled! She was sure she could find Gris-Gris!
Just one week ago, right after her first birthday, Rocky had opened the Feline Ethical Detective Agency (FEDA). She posted the news on the Internet, with this additional information. “Motto: We sniff out the truth. . . . But only in a good cause.” The “we” was Rocky (Proprietor) and Sergeant Pinky (Consultant). Sgt. Pinky was Rocky’s mother. She worked as a guard cat in Rockefeller Center, keeping mice away from the Rink Bar.
Suddenly, as if to underline the risks that four-legged creatures face, a fire engine raced by in the street outside St. Malachy’s. The screaming of its sirens drowned out the sounds of horns beeping and tires screeching that were the background music to every conversation in the theater district. Mrs. Castle gave a little whimper. Had her beloved Gris-Gris gotten squished under the wheels of a big red truck like that?
But Rocky was light-hearted. News of the death or injury of a cat flashes through the feline community almost as soon as it happens. Wherever Gris-Gris was, she was alive and unharmed! To give Mrs. Castle that reassurance, Rocky stood up and climbed into her lap. She pressed herself against the old lady’s breast and purred a warm confidence into her spirit.
Mrs. Castle dropped a kiss between Rocky’s soft gray ears. “Thank you, dear,” she smiled. “I feel much better. I think I’ll stay here for a while and pray with the Catlicks. But you don’t have to keep me company.”
The Catlicks Club was a prayer group active among the cats of Manhattan. The midtown branch had been founded by Rocky’s oldest sister, Peggy. It met for an hour every Wednesday afternoon at St. Malachy’s. The pastor had even installed a flap in the front door so its members could come and go, without waiting for a human parishioner to assist them.
Creak! Turning around in the pew, Rocky saw Peggy coming through the flap. Mostly white, except for a few brown patches on her back, Peggy was visible even in the shadows. She stood facing the door, so she could greet each one of the Catlicks as they came in. About twenty cats showed up every week.
Once they were all there, they would take up their positions beneath the candle racks. When Peggy gave the signal, they would close their eyes. For the next hour, they were on Prayer Patrol. Crossing the district with their good intentions, they prayed for actors and audiences, waiters and stagehands, producers and playwrights, and everybody who makes Broadway the great place it is. They begged God to instill sound feline sense into all the groups. Then they would raise the Paw of Blessing over the district, and their work was done.
Mrs. Castle pulled out a rosary. But Rocky, with a soft thump, slipped to the floor. As she passed Peggy in the back of the church, she gave her sister the quick flick of a whisker that says to other cats, “I’m on a job.” And Peggy gave her the little lift of a chin that says, “I’m proud of you!”
Threading her way between a marmalade and a calico, who were the first Catlicks to arrive, Rocky pushed through the flap, darted down the steps and headed toward Eighth Avenue. The sun was bright and warm, even in this narrow canyon between tall buildings, and Rocky felt wonderful. Besides, she was sure Gris-Gris would be easy to find.
Mrs. Castle had said, “She’s a Burmese, Rocky. That means she’s chocolate brown. And she has a crumpled back foot. It doesn’t keep her from running and jumping. But she’s a little sensitive about her looks.” Rocky was glad for the crumpled foot. It meant that more cats would have noticed her.
So many people were marching along 49th St., hurrying to the matinees, that Rocky was careful to stick close to the buildings. Her heart was singing, “I can do this! I can do this!” It was fun being grown up!
When she got to the curb, however, she sat down. Her bubble burst.
Here she was chasing over to the block where Mrs. Castle had her apartment! Mrs. Castle would already have investigated the basements, roofs and courtyards where Gris-Gris would be if she had stayed close to home. Rocky had not only overlooked this, she was setting off without a plan!
Rocky lifted a hind leg and scratched her ear. It was her way of buying time while changing direction. When she turned her head to lick her shoulder, she happened to catch sight of the dry-cleaner’s on the corner.
Mr. and Mrs. Singh, who owned it, set out a bowl of fresh water in their doorway every morning for any cat or dog who was passing by. And Rocky decided there was nothing she wanted more right now than a sip of water and the friendliness of the Singhs.
As she was lapping up the water, Mr. Singh came out and bowed to her. “Congratulations, Ms. Rockette,” he said. “We saw your advertisement on the Internet, and we wish you every success with your business.” Mr. Singh had been raised in England and was very courteous. He was the only one who called Rocky by her proper name. She was given that name because she had been born backstage, under a rack of costumes, at Radio City.
“Yes, congratulations,” called his wife from inside the store. She leaned over the counter so Rocky could see her in her blue sari.
“Mrs. Castle told us you were going to help her find Gris-Gris,” said Mr. Singh. “It would be a great blessing if you could. She has been very worried about her cat.”
He was so kind that Rocky felt it was safe to be honest. Merrrooo? she asked. It was her way of saying, “But where do I start?”
Mr. Singh smiled. He held up one finger as if he were teaching a class. “Go within,” he said slowly. “Everything we need to know is already inside our minds. Our minds are very great. Sit for a moment and let your mind speak. Then you will know exactly what to do.”
He bent down and picked up the water bowl. While he was taking it inside to refill it, Rocky waited for her mind to say something. She hoped it wouldn’t say “mother.” She knew she could ask her mother for help. But she didn’t want to do that. She wanted to surprise her mother with a job well done.
Out of nowhere, her mind said “lions.” Rocky blinked. Should she go to the Central Park zoo? Then she remembered the famous marble lions of midtown, Patience and Fortitude. Like the royalty they are, they recline on their pedestals outside the New York Public Library, with their paws outstretched, their proud chins lifted and their keen eyes patrolling the entrance, while the traffic on Fifth Avenue crawls past them in homage. To the cats of Manhattan, they symbolize the power of learning embodied in the millions of books inside the library.
Rocky would have to go to the lions of 42nd St. But how could they help? She brushed that question aside. If her mind thought she should seek out the lions, then her mind must have a plan.
© Lynn Schiffhorst 2010